With their l’Cie status now known to them, it’s time for the party to work out what to do next.
Just before they dealt with the Manasvin Warmech, Sazh expressed his dismay that children have been caught up in this, and nearly mentioned the reason he attacked Anima in the first place. Unfortunately, he stopped short of sharing that information. What he did share was the fact that the Sanctum fal’Cie basically sort out everyone’s needs on Cocoon, so people never lack for food and water. In a similar fashion, Snow talks about how the basic grunts in PSICOM rarely see real action, explaining why they’re so easily defeated by the party (and their forgotten rebel friends, who they won’t talk about for pretty much the rest of the game).
This theme of reliance is one of the major recurring ones that crop up throughout XIII. Lightning considers herself to be fine by herself, but she very much is not, as she comes to understand throughout her journey. Hope, as the youngest party member, and inexperienced in almost everything, needs to learn to hold his own as well. Even Fang, who has only appeared very briefly in a flashback so far, refuses to be a full part of the team until pretty much as late as possible.
Cocoon and its society is shown to be particularly reliant on the fal’Cie for everything. Food and water is provided, the government is guided by fal’Cie will, and entertainment is extravagant (if non-interactive). The chocobos on Cocoon are slender and pretty, while those to be found in the wilds of Pulse are larger and sturdier.
In the tradition of conspiracy stories, relying on the government for everything isn’t going to turn out well for the protagonists, or society in general. For now, the Purge alone doesn’t put the Sanctum in a great light, but it gets a lot worse.
I mocked Snow earlier for thinking that they’d be able to find Serah in this vast lake. Naturally, I was wrong, as they manage to discover her crystallised form, now locked to the rest of the crystal. With the exception of Lightning, they attempt to dig her out, but between the reappearance of the Warmech, and the fact that cutting crystal with improvised tools isn’t the most effective, most of them find it a futile effort.
Snow doesn’t, though. He sticks to his claim that he can save everyone including Serah, and opts to stay behind and attempt to free her. I’m uncertain what his plan after that would be, since carrying a giant crystal person around is impractical at best. The rest of the party choose the wiser option, and head on together instead, seeking safety from PSICOM.
With Snow gone, we get Sazh in the party instead, wiping any custom Paradigm Decks. The battle team is still locked, so you can’t tag Hope in, but you can at least modify his gear and Crystarium. It’ll only be possible to change your party setup in Chapter 10, so it’ll be a while yet.
While I’m making minor quibbles about the battle system, I’ll add another couple here. If you manage to start a fight without being noticed by enemies (a somewhat unreliable luck-based system in this game), your lead character will attack each enemy one-by-one to pre-emptively fill their chain gauge, which can take a while if you’re fighting a pack with several opponents. Similarly, the first time you do a Paradigm Shift in a fight, your characters will each display an animation in turn, while every Shift after that point is essentially instant. They’re not huge problems, but minor time-wastes that you’d think would have been noticed. Fortunately, both get ironed out by XIII-2.
Along the way, they spy PSICOM deploying cruisers, and they discuss just how much people hate Pulse. Sazh puts it down to fear shared by ten million people. Part of me wonders just how much of this was inspired by the War on Terror, with mass hysteria and government restrictions forming a lot of the plot. Certainly it looks like I’m not the only one to wonder about that. A lot of the phrases that Sazh brings up mirror those prevalent in newspapers at the time, and he brings up the idea of fear-mongering fairly often.
I’ll go into that some more once more of the plot unfolds later. Right now, Sazh talks about how the fal’Cie Eden hasn’t stepped in to stop the Purge, suspecting that the fal’Cie are content to just let the humans kill each other off. This provokes Hope, who holds to the idea that l’Cie are not human, which in turn bemuses Vanille. While we don’t have a specific antagonist yet, it’s a fair guess at this point to suspect that the Sanctum fal’Cie are not as all-giving as they’d like Cocoon to believe.
After a short journey through some ruins, the group finds a convenient spaceship left unattended and ready to fly. Nobody appears to question the convenience, and they hop aboard, ready to escape. Meanwhile, a strange robo-owl flutters in to watch over them. None of the main cast notice him, but it’s a reasonable assumption that whoever’s using him to track the party is probably also behind the handy spaceship.
Before they can escape, focus returns to Snow, who’s still trying to cut Serah free without much success. He’s interrupted by PSICOM, who send in too many soldiers for him to handle. As he collapses wearily before them, he appears to accidentally summon the Shiva sisters, who introduce the summoning system for XIII. After they easily dispatch the soldiers, one of them turns on Snow, while a mysterious woman watches from afar, flanked by more soldiers.
The Eidolon battles are a little confusing at first, since they’re not about just using spells to raise the chain gauge and then switching to Commando to deal damage. You instead need to test different things to work out how to increase their “Gestalt” bar. In this particular case, throwing out some Blizzard spells works neatly, along with switching to Sentinel for when she’s using her special moves. Once the Gestalt bar has been raised, you win the fight, and the Shiva Sisters turn into a motorcycle. As you do.
The game doesn’t really cover why these Eidolons appear out of nowhere for quite a while, though it’s pretty much inferred, and explained outright next time you can check the Datalog. It’s linked to when the l’Cie falter and lose hope, but in some cases feels a little forced. Snow’s case isn’t quite the worst, though the easy fight with soldiers just before he gives up doesn’t help to sell his hopeless situation.
After his fight, Snow collapses, allowing the mysterious woman and her soldier allies to take him prisoner. They also swiftly cut Serah free and transport her onboard their ship, which must have been a relief for Snow, who otherwise might have had to try carrying her. They treat Snow as an enemy and a prisoner, which feels a tad odd in retrospect, since they just want to recruit him into their rebellion. I feel like their rude depiction here is more to mislead the audience than to actually show how they’d behave, since I’d have thought they’d want to avoid provoking him into another fight, even if he does appear defeated. There is also no real benefit to threatening him, as he’s made no move to resist arrest.
That’s it for Snow’s gameplay for a while, though. Back on the spaceship, Sazh gets to enjoy himself with a Star Wars-esque chase sequence across the skies of Cocoon. We don’t quite come close enough to see what the world is actually like in shape, but there are some impressive shots of the Bresha Ruins, Eden, and a green landscape that I couldn’t name for sure. At one point, they try to evade pursuit by flying around the fal’Cie that acts as Cocoon’s sun. Given that I half-blind myself just looking at active light bulbs, I wonder at how dangerous that would actually be.
During a lull in the pursuit, Sazh accidentally turns on the news, which is reporting about the results of the Purge. Apparently the Sanctum is reporting a perfect relocation of the Purged citizens, and polls show that people are overwhelmingly in support of that Purge, and potentially future Purges as well. It feels a bit heavy-handed here, though I suppose that if the Sanctum controls the news, then they can easily modify how public opinion is displayed.
I quite enjoy Vanille and Sazh’s quick exchange here. Vanille queries who Primarch Dysley is, which causes Sazh to despair for modern education. For anyone who’s either figured her out, or already played the game, the reason she doesn’t know is that she’s not from Cocoon in the first place. It’s also a nice and neat way to provide some information to the player.
Sazh then goes on to snark that they should Purge everybody to fix it, accidentally referencing the antagonists’ ultimate plan. I’m going to pretend that this wasn’t the original plan, and that Dysley/Barthandelus only got inspiration from spying on the group at this point.
The pursuit ends in their ship being damaged and crash-landing, bringing an end to Chapter 3. This was the chapter around which my expectations began to strain to their limit, so I guess we have that to enjoy soon.